Alcohol and Sexual Assault: Is Intoxication a Cause of Rape? What Do YOU Think?

Alcohol and sexual assault are often associated. Is alcohol intoxication a cause of sexual assault? In her e-mail, this young woman raises important questions. She was  a victim of sexual assault or rape.

E-Mail

Hello Dr. Hanson,

I’d like to thank you for posting Alcohol and Sexual Assault: The Connection. I’ve been working on a letter to someone that assaulted me. I’m planning to read it face-to-face to him eventually.  But I was struggling with the facts and myths about alcohol. And also how to react to people that mention those myths as  facts.

Excuses

Several of his friends had convinced me that the perpetrator was drunk and therefore, didn’t know what was going on the whole time.  One even said ‘The alcohol took over his brain. He never planned on hurting you, but the alcohol somehow re-wired his brain. The alcohol chose you as the victim and used the perpetrator’s body as it’s weapon to hurt you.’ Obviously that last part sounded more like a science fiction movie. Therefore I stopped asking friends for help.

alcohol and sexual assaultAlcohol obviously can have a different effect on different people and accidents happen. But the perpetrator has hurt me before, by making explicit rape jokes/insults or being sexually intimidating. So I’m sure it wasn’t ‘the alcohol that re-wired his brain’ this time.   This person has already crossed lines before, by ‘jokingly’ telling strangers on a train about my past sexual abuse. He even included very intimate details and made insulting comments about my body.

Blamed Me

Usually (not always) he was drunk during these actions. I’d ask him to stop, sometimes quietly. Sometimes I’d get angry and repeat myself until he’d stop.   Right after the train incident, I confronted him about it. He said ‘You should’ve talked to me a little louder. How can you expect me to hear ‘You need to stop’ when I am the one screaming things through the train? I can’t hear you when I am screaming.’  Since that day, I kept on repeating and raising my voice every time.

He had been irritated all evening on the night of the sexual assault, which was more like an attack. He purposely hurt me in specific places, while screaming at me and jumping up and down on the bed. Once he started punching my breasts I started crying and screaming for help. He started laughing and said; ‘You’re breasts can’t be hurting. You don’t have any, you’re flatchested!!’

Meanwhile he was sitting/laying on top of me, so I couldn’t escape from him.   What was especially scary was that while I was crying and screaming, he actually lay down a little more and with his face very close to mine and started laughing louder. That contrast of someone laughing at my crying face was horrible. I believe that even if you’re drunk, you would recognize what you were doing and that it is wrong.

Birthday Party

Unfortunately, my ex-boyfriend later invited him to my birthday party. I walked over to the perpetrator and said; ‘Can I just talk to you for a second? Could you come over to the hallway?’ His response was [here, the victim describes a series of obscene and cruel public actions that have been deleted to protect her identity].

He claims to not to remember or know a thing about the sexual assault. What is going on here? Is he lying/denying all of this or is it something else?

Thanks a lot in advance,

C. B.

Response

Dear C. B.,

Reading your email is painful. I know that writing it must have been very difficult. Unfortunately, I am not qualified to provide any counseling, legal, or other advice. I can only respond as a researcher about alcohol and sexual assault.

The perpetrator seems to have had a long history of disrespecting you, belittling you, and saying cruel/hurtful things to you.  And he’s done so both privately and publicly. His prior behavior has been abusive and completely unacceptable. It suggests deep-seated anger toward you.

It is disturbing, but not surprising, that he assaulted you and laughed at your pain. His behavior during the assault appears to be consistent with his behavior both before and after it. Alcohol didn’t make him assault you or re-wire his brain.

An Excuse, Not a Cause

Intoxication is an excuse, not a cause of bad behavior. Perpetrators often admit that they drink in order to have an excuse for their unacceptable actions.

Outrageously, he and his friends are not only making excuses for his behavior. They are actually blaming you, the innocent victim. He is totally responsible for his behavior. You share none of the blame. You may have been naive in not distancing yourself from him. But that does’t make you responsible in any way.

Your Safety

For your own safety, I would not read your letter to him privately. Better to do so in the presence of one or more people you trust. People who could both physically protect and emotionally support you. More important, I strongly recommend that you completely distance yourself from both him and his friends. That might even require changing your environment.

I hope you will call the free and confidential National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673). A trained professional there will connect you with a sexual assault counselor located in your area. You have not only been physically but also mentally assaulted. Counseling should be very helpful to you mentally and emotionally. You have suffered severe trauma that should not be ignored.

Best regards,

David Hanson

Readings on Alcohol and Sexual Assault

  • Abbey, A., et al.  Alcohol and sexual assault. Alco Res Hlth., 2001, 25(1), 43-51.
  • Raphael, J. Rape is Rape. Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 2013.
  • Ullman, S., et al.  Alcohol and Sexual assault in a national sample of college women. J Interpers Viol., 1999, 14(6), 603-625.